Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pizza, politics and pick-pockets…

L'ora dello Spritz...Aperol o Campari?
Dorosoduro’s Campo Santa Margherita is the spot to be on a warm, starlit pre-summer evening in Venice; and last night the hustle and bustle of people filling the popular meeting place showed no exception to that rule.
In and around Venice, a before dinner get together is known as l’ora dello Spritz or Spritz Hour—the local equivalent of Happy Hour. Lifting a glass—complete only if topped off with a large green olive or an orange twist and often both—has become a ritual which is as much a part of Venetian life as sipping a morning cappuccino at the corner bar or stopping in at the local bakery before noon to make sure you get your pick of the day’s freshly baked bread.
Last night I shared my spritz experience with a wonderful group of American expats who—if I quickly pull together an average—have each lived in Venice for more than a decade. After two hours of political chatter—yes we do still care about what happens in our homeland— and thirst quenching that left our brains stimulated and the bottoms of our drinking tumblers red or orange depending on the choice of Campari or Aperol, we left the bar’s jasmine scented garden, shook each other’s hands, double-cheek kissed and shouted Italian and English salutations into the cool night air. Some headed home, one went to the gym, and a smaller group of us answered the not-so-quiet rumble in our stomachs by strolling into the heart of the campo and occupying a table in one of the half-a-dozen al fresco dining trattorie that frame the area.
We were cordially greeted by the restaurant staff, ordered our meal and continued a more intimate conversation about our lives, hobbies and professions making the pleasant discovery that our small dinner group consisted of a combination of wonderful teachers and writers.  Before long we were once again sipping drinks, cutting into artichoke and cheese pizza and satisfying our taste buds with the respectable Italian version of an American Club Sandwich.
Rarely at a loss for words, I did my share of talking, yet what I enjoyed most of all was listening to my new friends. I sat back to contemplate the unrelated events that had touched each of our lives and had brought us to Venice; I liked the idea that these same circumstances were giving us the opprotunity to forge new friendships which otherwise might have been missed had life placed us elsewhere.
The evening rushed ahead and our thoughts turned to trains to catch, early morning appointments, and my husband who was waiting for me in St. Mark’s square after a long day at work. The conto came and as we all reached for our wallets the joy that had wrapped its arms around our lovely evening vanished.  We were given a swift shove back to the unpleasant side of reality when one of our friends discovered that while we were enjoying each other’s company, someone else had unzipped her purse, reached inside and stolen her wallet; apparently it was one of the two men who had been seated at the table behind us, and had opened and closed their menus only to quickly leave without ordering.
What to do...except make the fact known to the restaurant owner and report it to the Carabinieri? That done my dear friend had to face the tiresome task of cancelling credit cards, reporting her stolen identification and local transportation passes, and try to overcome the gut wrenching displeasure of having been robbed.
I’d like to believe that these things can’t happen in this beautiful city; but they do. The genuine sense of security and ownership that one quickly feels when in Venice can betray the visitor as well as the resident. The feeling of being part of a neighborhood is exactly what makes it easy for the work of pick-pockets to go unnoticed.  My comments are not meant to frighten or criticize, but instead are meant to remind all that in the majority of touristic cities in Italy and around the world this is not only the high tourist season but also the time of year when pick-pockets do their best business. On the street, in crowds, on the vaporetti and especially while seated in caf├ęs, restaurants and bars keep your purse zipped and in front of you or your wallet and cash in your front pocket. You’ll keep the bad guys a little more honest, and save yourself from remembering a lovely evening in a beautiful campo as an unpleasant experience.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Valpolicella: a canter away from Venice

Serego Alighieri vineyards-Valpolicella,Veneto
The grapes becoming Amarone & Recioto

I'd like to give those of you who have already visited this blog article or those of you who are stopping by for the first time an update based on my recent return visit to the Serego Alighieri vineyards. It's October 2011 as I'm writing and yesterday I was fortunate to see this year's harvest of grapes laid to rest on their bamboo beds.  I've added a few photos to give you a better idea of how the passimento process works to produce the wonderfully rich flavors found in Amarone and Recioto wines. And, just between you and me, the insiders say 2011 will be a very good year...let's hope so. Enjoy, and read on 
Grapes laid to rest of bamboo beds

Even for those who have never set a heel at the top of the boot the mere mention of travelling to Venice, Italy instantly brings to mind the images of stripe-shirted gondoliers navigating their black vessels down the Grand Canal; a multitude of mazelike alleyways dotted with Carnival-mask and Murano glass selling storefronts; or Renaissance palaces reflecting on the canals they seem to float upon. But what about those other worthy places that are rarely explored or left to that wishful second or third trip? Seasoned travellers know that after you’ve immerged yourself in the beauty that Venice has to offer, a day or two spent discovering the quiet corners of the Veneto region is a side trip you won’t regret.
VALPOLICELLA: Rich, intense, seductive earthiness, raisinated taste yet not sweet…that’s the description that comes to mind when one speaks the word Valpolicella and contemplates her wines. Set on the flatlands and hillsides of Verona and just a little over an hour’s drive west of Venice lies an area that the locals are proud to tell you has produced wine since as far back as the Ancient Greeks, and whose name is said to derive from the Greek Roman combination for Valley of Cells. Acres upon acres of grapevines—Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara—furnish the world with the ever-more-in-demand wine of the homonymous named valley. Bathed in the moist cool air that flows westward from the Adriatic Sea and eastward from nearby Lake Garda this fertile soil nourishes its vines and grants us its famous reds: Valpolicella Classico and Ripasso are the two younger yet noble siblings of the land’s more mature full bodied Amarone and smooth Port-like desert wine Recioto.
No visit to Valpolicella is complete without a stop at the enchanting grounds of the Serego Alighieri Vineyard. The property, owned by Count Serego Alighieri—a direct descendant of the 14th century poet Dante Alighieri—has been in the family since 1353. In collaboration with the well-known and respected MASI vineyards, and through online or telephone reservations, the Serego Alighieri winery is open to the public and offers informative tours with English speaking enologists whose gracious direction accompanies their guests down the hedge-lined paths of the estate, and through the grounds that nurture a select number of grafted vines dating back to the 1800’s. Once you’ve learned that in the 19th century grafting a pest resistant American vine with its European cousins saved most of Europe’s vineyards, you’ll climb up an old stone stairway to the loft where every October the grapes chosen to become Amarone, Recioto and Ripasso are laid out on bamboo beds for the appassimento; a drying process which can last up to four months. Back at the bottom of the stone stairway the guests enter a must scented cantina where cherry and oak wood barrels rest in the dim light, and leave their essence on the ruby red liquid they contain.  Further down a narrow hallway embellished with the Serego Alighieri family tree awaits the perfect ending to the enlightening tour: The wine tasting room where you can put your newfound knowledge to the test and savor a variety of Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone and Recioto on the spot, or purchase a bottle or two to take home.

Serego Alighieri Winery-Valpolicella

Guest House Serego Alighieri
For those who wish to prolong their stay in the sublime atmosphere of Valpolicella, the Serego Alighieri winery has tastefully decorated apartments named for the local grapes and housed in the estate’s wing adjacent to the winery. Reservations for the tour and accommodations can be made at:  http://www.seregoalighieri.it/ing/index.html

And for those who wish to make a day trip from Venice or Verona I highly recommend the Trattoria Dalla Rosa Alda in San Giorgio di Valpolicella, just up the hill from the winery where lunch on a vine covered terrace makes their scrumptious menu all the more desirable.  Guest rooms are also available in this quaint Bed & Breakfast. Reservations at: http://www.dallarosalda.it/e_trattoria.htm  
The winery is open year round but I think the best time to visit the Valpolicella region is from March through November. The wine harvest or vendemmia is in October, and the grapes are laid out to dry until mid-February. Salute!
Tasting the fabulous wines of Masi and Serego Alighieri vineyards